Mets ‘hijack’ starting pitcher market. Will Braves give in to demands?

5 Braves to watch in second half

The Mets are not really in the playoff race and have a strong starting rotation, so they naturally acquired Marcus Stroman, one of the best starting pitchers on the trade market. Being it's the Mets, who long ago exhausted the benefit of the doubt, their unconventional move was ridiculed in many corners.

But, wait! ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports that the Stroman trade is part of a clever plan (don’t laugh) by the Mets.

That’s ... actually a pretty good gambit by the Mets, if they can pull it off (hey, I said don’t laugh).

If the Mets don’t think they can reach a deal with Zack Wheeler then Stroman, who has one year of team control after this one, is a very good replacement. If the Mets don’t get the trade offers they want for Noah Syndergaard, who has two more years of arbitration, then they can just keep him and Stroman around for a playoff run that surely is coming someday soon. Or they can trade either or both next winter or next July.

And there’s a pretty good chance the Mets can get a haul for Syndergaard now. The Braves are among the teams that will be calling after lackluster turns by Max Fried and Kevin Gausman in Philadelphia over the weekend. (I still think Fried is a pretty good option, while Gausman clearly is not.)

Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos has refused to surrender any of his top prospects in trades. It's the right approach for a GM with a limited piggy bank and thus a need for good players on below-market contracts. But if Anthopoulos were to decide to part with a top prospect then it should be for a pitcher like Syndergaard: good, young (26) and with multiple years of team control (Syndergaard's recent injury history includes no major elbow or shoulder ailments).

The trade price for that kind of pitcher will be high, as usual. A study by Baseball America of the last three trade deadlines concluded: "Overall, the price for a frontline starter with multiple years of control left has held steady at two Top 100 Prospects, plus more in recent years."

The Braves have six BA Top 100 prospects, including four pitchers: outfielder Christian Pache (No. 15), left-hander Ian Anderson (27), outfielder Drew Waters (31), right-hander Kyle Wright (47), left-hander Kyle Muller (64) and right-hander Bryse Wilson (75). Anthopoulos can hold on to those young pitchers with the reasonable expectation that at least one of them will pan out in the majors.

But, as I noted on July 4, Anthopoulos probably would have to part with a good prospect to get a good pitcher because so many teams were in the playoff hunt and everyone needs or wants pitching. The trade market has only become more favorable for sellers since then.

Earlier this month the three major statistical projection systems — FanGraphsBaseball Prospectus and FiveThirtyEight — all agreed that six teams had a 50 percent chance of making the playoffs. After the weekend that number was up to eight: Yankees, Twins, Indians, Astros, Braves, Nationals, Cubs and Dodgers. The models also project realistic playoff hopes for the the Red Sox and Rays.

Five of those 10 teams are stacked with starting pitchers. The Dodgers and Nationals have three frontline starters each. The Astros, Indians and Rays each have two. But the thing about pitching is even teams that have a lot of it are always looking for more. The Dodgers, who boast three All-Star starters, reportedly were pursuing Stroman with the plan of moving one of their merely good starters to the bullpen. It's good to be the Dodgers.

Now the Mets are in prime position to dictate favorable trade terms to the many teams looking for a starting pitcher. Those fixated on the promise of prospects — the MLB is becoming more like the NBA in that way — may not like that the Mets sent away their top two arms on the farm for Stroman. But Simeon Woods-Richardson still is in Single-A and Anthony Kay fell out of the most recent BA top 100. And as noted by USA Today's Bob Nigthengale: "In a study by Baseball America, just 20.1% of the prospects traded at the July 31 deadline since 2003 ever played at least two years in the major leagues and had a positive career Wins Above Replacement."

That may be a bit misleading — the very best prospects don’t often get traded, after all. But the point remains that GMs needn’t be so fearful of being haunted by a good prospect they send away. It happened to Anthopoulos when, as Toronto GM, he sent away future All-Star Syndergaard as part of a trade for R.A. Dickey (though Dickey was no slouch in four seasons for the Jays).

To get a good starter for the Braves, Anthopoulos may have to deal with the Mets. They made a weird trade that looks like the Mets being the Mets, but that could actually work out for them.